Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Angie Webb and I created Virtual Run Events powered by Moon Joggers at the start of 2013. It first started as Moon Joggers and was a fun running and walking community for people to join. When we decided to start doing virtual races, my best friend, Darnell, gave me $1,000 to get started and became my business partner. The first virtual race we did was to help raise money for one of our Moon Joggers. Her son had been diagnosed with cancer and they did not have insurance, so we hosted a virtual race and raised $2,500 to help them pay their medical bills.
After that initial virtual race, we decided that we could really make a difference by hosting virtual races and donating to charities with each race. Eight years later and we have hosted hundreds of virtual races and donated more than $860,000 to charities around the world. We set a goal of donating $1 million to charity and will reach that goal by the end of 2021! It’s amazing to see our participants from all over the planet come together and participate in our races.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I grew up playing a lot of sports. In high school, I was on the basketball and soccer teams. But I hated running. Whenever we had to run the fun run at school I hated it and usually ended up walking most of it. After high school, I decided to give running a try. I saw my mother, after having eight children, complete the St. George Marathon in Utah when she was in her forties, and it totally inspired me. I still have a love/hate relationship with running, but I have completed numerous 5K’s, 10K’s, and half marathons. I also completed the St. George Marathon three years after I saw my mother cross the finish line.
We learned is that we do not have to have a product that everyone wants, we just have to find that small niche of people that love what we are doing and want to be involved.
In 2012 I moved to Texas and wanted to find a fun way to stay in touch with my family. As the new year was approaching I called my sister and challenged her to see which one of us could run 1,000 miles in 2013. We decided to do it and as I was driving along a country road in Texas, I looked up and I saw the moon. In my head, I wondered how many miles away the moon was and if we could run enough miles to get to the moon. I got home and looked it up and saw the moon was 284,000 miles away. I called my sister and said, “Let’s see if we can get 284 people to join us and see if we can log enough miles, as a group, to get to the moon in 2013!”
I jumped on Facebook and posted on a bunch of running groups and within three weeks we had over 1,200 people wanting to join us. It was amazing how quickly it grew. We launched on January 1, 2013, and by May 25, 2013, we had logged enough miles to reach the moon. Each year since then we have set the goal to log enough miles to reach different planets in the solar system. It’s a great community and we have an active Facebook group where we share our journeys and cheer each other on.
During that first year, I was working on my MBA and working full-time at a pre-school. Moon Joggers was just something fun I was doing on the side. My dad kept telling me that it was something special and I could turn it into a business. I had never considered owning my own business. Slowly the idea kept coming back and I decided to give it a try. We created beautiful custom medals and t-shirts and people were quickly signing up.
During our second year, we introduced that first virtual race and from there we created fun virtual races with custom-designed medals to celebrate different things like Mother’s Day, National Cupcake Day, Ugly Sweater Day, and more.
In 2014 our races really took off and I was able to quit my job and work full-time on Moon Joggers and all of our virtual races. I taught myself how to create a website, we grew a lot through social media and word of mouth and have become experts in shipping thousands of packages a month.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When we first started doing the virtual races we had no idea what to do about medals. For the first three or four races, our medals were cheap and not very professional looking. We ended up finding a great company that has great artists that design the medals we want and produce beautiful custom medals for us. We give them the ideas for each race and they create the design and they do a wonderful job. It’s a simple process and works well for our company. Once the medals are produced, they are shipped to us and we package them individually and ship them out to participants.
Our start-up costs mostly just consisted of pre-ordering medals for our first race. I created our website through WordPress and used registration software already available to set up our races. We did not spend a lot of money to get started. I did work a lot of long hours to set things up and it was more than a year before I was getting paid for the work I was putting into it. The initial $1,000 that Darnell put into the company was used to set up our LLC and to purchase medals. We used any profit we made on our first few races to buy medals for the next races that would come up. We slowly, but steadily, started to build up our races and participant lists.
The biggest lesson we learned is that we do not have to have a product that everyone wants, we just have to find that small niche of people that love what we are doing and want to be involved. Virtual races are not for everyone. Some runners only prefer live events where they can go and race with lots of other people. But we have found that there are so many people that enjoy the virtual race option where they can do the race on their own, wherever they want and whenever they want. They still get to be part of something but can do it on their own terms. We have found our niche of people and we love them and the enthusiasm they bring to participating in our races.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In the last eight years, we’ve relied a lot on our social media presence and our email marketing. Our business was pretty much launched through Facebook. We found people interested in running and invited them to join our group, which was very inclusive for runners and walkers of all levels. It quickly became a positive place for people to come and support each other. As people joined the group and felt the good vibes coming from the group, they invited their friends to join too. We continue to make sure our Facebook community is welcoming, positive, and inclusive.
We also have Facebook ads constantly running. This helps bring in new customers, who in turn end up inviting their friends to join us too. Our email list is always growing too, as we collect email addresses from all of our participants and we also have a place on our website where people can subscribe to our newsletter. Each week we send out an email blast highlighting an upcoming race, sharing our latest blog post, and inviting them to enter our latest giveaway. We also host flash sales every once in a while, which encourages past participants to sign up for more of our upcoming races.
Trends change, social media algorithms change, a pandemic comes and changes EVERYTHING. You have to be flexible and learn how to move forward with the change.
There is still a lot of marketing we could do, but we have kept things pretty simple. Our numbers continue to increase as we focus mostly on Facebook advertising and our email newsletter. We have considered using Amazon, but because we are events, we haven’t figured out the best way to utilize Amazon yet. We do feel like there is a big opportunity there. We also post our events on online calendars like Patch, Active, and Eventbrite. There are so many online community calendars that let you post events for free. It just comes down to taking the time to submit each event and finding out which calendars drive traffic to our website.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are still growing and looking forward to many years of virtual races. In the past year, because of the pandemic, virtual races have become more popular because it allows you to participate from home. Our numbers have increased and new people have come to us as they’ve discovered virtual races. We rank on the first page of Google and other search engines when people are searching for virtual races. There is a lot more competition now, but because we’ve been around for so long we’ve been able to stay strong and continue to find success.
All of our races are listed on our website and that is where people go to sign up. Our customers sign up for a race and pay a registration fee. Part of that fee covers the costs of the medal, bib, processing fees, and shipping. We also donate a percentage of each registration fee to the charity chosen for that specific race. The rest of the fee is put back into the company and pay for advertising and other expenses, as well to pay ourselves and our employees. We have three women that work part-time for us. They are each able to stay home with their children and work from home. They handle the shipping and customer service.
We are always thinking of new ideas for races and creating awesome medals. Each year we host about 80 to 100 different races and have already planned out our race calendar through the end of 2022. We are also building relationships with different charities and always looking for new charities to donate to. There are several things we consider before choosing a new charity to race for. Some charities we love so much we end up doing multiple races for them throughout the year.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When starting a business I think the most important thing to remember is that you will make mistakes. For us, it’s been a lot of trial and error as we have worked to find out what works best for us. We’ve spent money on some advertising that we thought would work for us and it was a total waste of money. But we have also figured out what works best for us when it comes to advertising. Every once in a while we’ll test out different ways to advertise and have learned that you have to take risks to find out what works.
We are also the first to admit that we’ve had a lot of luck. We started using Facebook to build our business before it started changing its algorithms and other things. Today it’s a lot harder, and more expensive, to reach customers through Facebook and other social media. We pay a lot more for ads on Facebook now than we did eight years ago. When we started recruiting runners on Facebook to help us run to the moon it was so easy and I do not think we’d have the same experience today.
Being consistent and being patient have been two things we’ve had to focus on over the years. It takes time for things to grow and succeed is not usually an overnight thing. I worked hundreds and hundreds of hours before I started making any money, but in the end, it has paid off and I love what I do. I am also aware that things change quickly and you always have to be willing to learn.
What worked today for our business may not work tomorrow. Trends change, social media algorithms change, a pandemic comes and changes EVERYTHING. You have to be flexible and learn how to move forward with the change. On the other end of that, if you have something that works, then keep doing it. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Our virtual races are simple and sometimes we think we need to add extra bells and whistles, but in the end, the process works and continues to work well.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We send people to our website to sign up. When they register for races they are signing up using our Race Entry registration site. We have teamed up with Race Entry and they handle all of our registrations and it’s a great partnership. We also use Facebook and Instagram to build our community. On Facebook, we have found that having a group is better than a page (although we have both). When we post on the page not all of our followers see it. When we post on the group, people in the group see it and respond to it, and can communicate with each other. Also in the group, participants can post and share photos from their races and connect with other people.
On Instagram we are in the process of learning how to use it to increase our audience. Instagram Stories and Reels are new to us, but as we have recently been testing them out, we find that we are getting more views and more clicks to our website. We are also learning more about the algorithms being used by Facebook and Instagram, but they are always changing. So we try to stay up to date on those.
When it comes to shipping we pull our registration lists and save them as Excel sheets. Those are then used on our Stamps account where we print our shipping labels and prepare our shipments. Stamps.com has been the best option for our shipping needs, and while sometimes there are small glitches, it still works great for all of the shipping we do.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
If you are looking to start your own business you must be willing to put in the work. When you have your own business you truly are married to your work, but I love the freedom and flexibility it offers me. As long as I have my laptop with me, I can work from anywhere. I work from home, I work on vacation (although I’m learning to work as little as possible on vacation) and I’ve even worked from the side of the road when I was the driver for one of our Moon Joggers that ran across America, from New York City to Los Angeles.
Don’t be afraid to take risks and try different things. You’ll figure out what works best for you. And do not give up when you make mistakes. Mistakes will be made! We have made plenty, but we have learned from them. Find people that inspire you and ask them questions and even ask them to mentor you. Most people want to help other people to be successful.
There is plenty of space in this world for everyone to be successful. We started with very little competition with what we do, but now there is so much competition! But the cool thing is, with all of the competition, we are doing better now than we ever have. Find what works for you and then keep doing it over and over and over again as long as it keeps working. Make adjustments when you need to, but commit to the long haul. Most importantly, be yourself. Your customers are interested in YOU. Don’t pretend to be anything other than yourself.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not looking to hire right now. If any students are looking for unpaid internships we would love marketers, designers, and writers.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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